You’re a producer. What does the producer do for a big festival such as Grey Fox?
I used to have to do it all myself. I started in ’85 by doing everything but sell tickets. I booked it, I got the volunteers and I got the vendors, but I slowly realized that it takes a lot of people to make something like this work. Now, as a producer, I oversee everything that happens. It’s like putting together a mosaic where I’m the only person who can see how all the pieces fit together.
How did you come to this job? What’s your background?
It was serendipitous. I had a good friend who was a musician who I used to go see play. At one show, where they were the second act, the first act had cancelled and the owner asked them if they had enough material to play the whole show. They said “sure” - and I found myself saying: “not for second act money!” The owner agreed, so, after that night, they wanted me to manage them. I didn’t know too much about managing, but I quickly realized that there was a lot of good music and a shortage of good venues. So I got interested in finding good venues and jobs for this band, which in turn led me to become involved with the Berkshire Mountain Bluegrass Festival. The producer of that festival asked me to help raise some capital and I was able to see what needed to be done. I didn’t have a great deal of control, but I saw all the moving parts. When the opportunity (with Winterhawk-now Grey Fox) came in 1985, I thought, “I’m ready to try this.”
I finally had a chance to sit down with HVBA Vice President, consummate musician, bandmate and all around great guy, Pete Conklin, to chat about what music means to him. It’s not easy finding Pete without an instrument in his hand. But our talk was enlightening and I’d like to share that with HVBA members.
By Jeffrey Anzevino, HVBA Founder
JA: Pete, I’ve never conducted an interviewed before.
PC: And I’ve never been interviewed.
Good we’re in tune. Pete, I think of you as Mr. Music. Music seems to be—almost, your life.
Well thanks, Jeff.
What does music mean to you?
Well, obviously a lot since it seems as if I’m either playing music or listening to it all the time. Althought it’s funny, I hardly ever listen to the radio anymore. No pop stuff, that’s for sure.
What instruments do you play?
I reached Eric by phone while he was on the road traveling south for a few dates in Florida. I asked him about his (relatively) new Henderson guitar, brother duets, and life on the road. Always gracious, Eric is as delightful off stage as he is on it.
GH: How did you get turned on to bluegrass? Was it from your father?
EG: Yeah, my dad listened to it on the radio. Had a few bluegrass records, not a lot of them. I think the reason we ended up in bluegrass was because I just started playing the banjo, and Leigh started playing the guitar. I got turned onto Flatt and Scruggs, and then he did. And I think just the fact that we were playing bluegrass instruments lead us into the field. We liked classic country just as much, but Leigh once said that, you know, the banjo is what drove us into bluegrass. I never really thought of it like that. But, anyway, we got hooked on it early—in our teens or pre-teens—and we listened to a lot of different first generation bluegrass artists and then got into the more progressives styles as well. But cutting our teeth on the traditional stuff has informed our music more than anything.
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There are many avenues of involvement for players of Bluegrass music. Jamming, learning, performing, songwriting, teaching, recording, and luthiery all add up to some of the most satisfying hours of spent time we will ever know. The music chooses us.
Greg Cahill is, in so many ways, the embodiment of bluegrass music: honest, friendly, and in it not because he wants to be, necessarily, but because he has to be. I was fortunate to reach him at his home on a day that he was, as he says, unpacking his suitcase, doing the laundry, and packing it all in again in order to head back out on the road. Through it all, he tries to be an ambassador for the music and, frankly, you couldn’t find a better one.
- Glen Herbert
Glen Herbert: You’ve been doing this for quite a while, haven’t you?
Greg Cahill: Special C was formed in 1975, so this is year number 38. I had played in a few other bands before that. But I’ve been making my living at it for 38 years, between playing with bands, doing studio stuff, teaching and, you know, all things musical.